by David Olds
Through the long and lazy days of summer I found myself drawn to a number of vocal discs which on the surface have very little in common with each other. The first is the new album by Toronto’s own darlings of “punk baroque” I Furiosi, their first for the prestigious Dorian Sono Luminous label. Crazy (DSL-90902) features the pure tone of soprano Gabrielle McLaughlin in a variety of settings by Jonathan Eccles, G.F. Handel, Godfrey Finger, Thomas Arne, Alessandro Stradella and John Blow which all seem to explore some aspect of madness (although it’s hard to be sure as the “eco-friendly” program notes – i.e. no paper used - to be available only on-line at the Dorian website after the September release were not yet posted at time of writing). While these songs involve fairly sparse accompaniment, they are interspersed with instrumental selections in which Furiosi violinists Julia Wedman and Aisslinn Nosky and cellist/gambist Felix Deak are joined by James Johnstone (harpsichord), Stephanie Martin (organ) and Lucas Harris (theorbo and guitar). The full and energetic sound achieved at times belies the size of the ensemble. Highlights for me include an aria from Handel’s Giulio Cesare, Arne’s To Fair Fidele’s Grassy Tomb, an aria “con violines” from Stradella’s Susanna, Vivaldi’s trio sonata “La Folia” and the viol da gamba solo Deth by Tobias Hume. One unexpected treasure is the final selection, an intriguing arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne. I must confess I cringed when I saw it on the track list thinking this was not something I was going to want hear in “period style” but from the opening plucked arpeggios on the cello through the entry of the oh-so-unlike Leonard Cohen high and crystalline soprano voice and the long haunting violin lines, I was drawn in and convinced. I’m left wondering what they would do with Cohen’s Halleluiah.
Concert note: I Furiosi’s concert season begins on October 4 with “The T-Word”, a drag show with guests Matthew White and Stephanie Martin at Calvin Presbyterian Church. www.ifuriosi.com .
Phoenix Edition is a new European label being distributed by Naxos and one of its first releases is the world premiere recording of four secular cantatas by Joseph Martin Kraus. Kraus, a contemporary of Mozart (they were born in 1756 and Kraus only outlived Mozart by one year, dying of consumption at the age of 36 in 1792), was born and educated in Germany but spent most of his career in Stockholm where he served as court conductor to Gustav III, became very interested in the culture of his adopted home and established a high standard for Swedish music. His broad output included a wealth of instrumental music and he composed operas in Swedish, but it is four of his Italian cantatas which are presented on the CD La Primavera (Phoenix Edition 101). We are told that the main reason that these works fell into obscurity is that their particularly difficult soprano lines were written for a specific singer, Lovisa (Sofia) Augusti, also born in 1756, whose death in 1790 devastated the composer. On this recording we are treated to the extreme facility of soprano Simone Kermes whose technical abilities and comfort in the stratospheric upper range make it all sound simple (and musical). The soloist is required to employ what I would call “machine-gun tremolo” over extended phrases. In lesser hands this technique can be simply abrasive and unpleasant, but Kermes’ control and warm tone, even in the highest register, makes it an exhilarating experience. Although the booklet notes are in German, English and French, the cantatas’ lyrics – Anacreonic poems by Pietro Metastasio entitled “La Gelosia” (Jealousy), “La Primavera” (Spring), “La Scusa” (The Apology) and “La Pesca” (Fishing) – are given only in the original Italian and in German translation. Another seeming oversight in the otherwise thorough liner notes is lack of biographical information about the composer, although there is an essay about the cantatas which puts them into the context of his career in Sweden. That quibble aside this excellent release which features L’Arte del Mondo – a youthful offspring of Concerto Köln under the direction of the Concerto’s founder Werner Ehrhardt - should go a long way towards bringing the music of this important and under-recognized composer of the classical era into the light of day.
The next CD also features Swedish music, but it could not be more different. One morning in late July I was surprised to see what appeared to be a punked-up version of the Dixie Chicks on Breakfast TV - three young blond women playing a kind of hard-edged country music and really rockin’ out. What really surprised me was that the (six string) banjo player was using a “bottle neck” slide while also playing a kick drum, snare and tambourine with her feet and singing lead lines along with her sisters (who play slap-style upright bass and resonator guitar respectively). Although their family name is Bondesson, the group is called Baskery and their debut album Fall Among Thieves (Veranda Records VERCD001) is being launched with an international tour that included 16 stops across Canada over the summer. I must say I was impressed enough by what I saw on TV that morning to head out to the Dakota Tavern to catch their Toronto club date that evening. Baskery’s live show is amazing and the CD reflects this energy. As a matter of fact it was recorded live at Decibel Studios in Stockholm – “nothing hidden, nothing added” they say – where they constructed a stage on sound floor to create a concert-like setting. Although not all of the songs are masterpieces, there is enough craft and energy here to recommend the group as more than a curiosity. Check them out at www.Baskery.com or have a look at their introductory video on You Tube.
The final disc seems to have been lost in the shuffle when it appeared last February. Reading Tiina Kiik’s review of Mitch Smolkin’s “A Song is Born” (see Pot Pourri on page 60) reminded me that Aviva Chernick who sings on that release put out her own debut CD recently. In the Sea (www.avivachernick.com ) is an eclectic collection of Ladino and Yiddish/Hebrew folk songs interspersed with such gems as Kurt Weil’s Pirate Jenny, Randy Newman’s I Think It’s Going To Rain Today and a particularly effective version of Leonard Cohen’s Dance Me To The End of Love. It’s funny how Mr. Cohen keeps popping up this month. You’ll find another reference in Ori Dagan’s review of DK Ibomeka’s new CD “I’m Your Man” in the Jazz reviews on page 59. But back to Ms. Chernick. The first time I heard this young singer’s powerful voice was as the alto soloist in “Mother Was Standing”, an amateur production of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater that I had the pleasure to be involved in about a decade ago. Since that time her voice has matured and her technique has developed and focussed. In the trio setting here with pianist/music director Tania Gill and cello/bass player Andrew Downing she shines with confidence and style. But most important, she is obviously having the time of her life.
Concert notes: The Labour Day weekend will be a busy time for Aviva Chernick at the Ashkenaz Festival at Harbourfront. In addition to performing at Mitch Smolkin’s CD launch at 7:00 on August 30, she will also be celebrating Havdala (the end of the Sabbath) with Rabbi Aaron Levy at 9:00 on the outside stage and participating in the late night Sephardic Cabaret at the Lakeside Terrace. On August 31 at 6:30 her Huppa Project launches their “Under the Canopy – Music of the Jewish Wedding Ceremony” CD at the Lakeside Terrace and on September 1 her band Jaffa Road (formerly Shakshuka) performs a free concert at the Brigantine Room at 7:00.
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